Here’s a conversation that I had with an elderly man last week. He belongs to a dialect right next to the language group we’re living in right now. My friend translated my pidgin (the trade language) into this older fellow’s language for me, because the guy didn’t understand pidgin well.
Elderly man: “That group you’re staying with right now already has two missionary families living in it. You should come live with US, learn OUR language, and teach US God’s talk. I’ll give your family ground, we’ll feed you, and we’ll look after you. You need to come stay with us.”
Seth: “Actually, I’m not in this area permanently. I’m just living here right now as I learn Tok Pisin. I’ll be leaving again in just a few weeks.”
Elderly man: “I’ve been to one of the churches near here and they only teach from Pidgin or English Bibles. They told me that if I don’t believe God’s talk then I’m going to the place of fire. I don’t understand God’s talk though. This is really weighing on me….If you don’t come live with us…then…then I’m going to cut off my finger.”
[I had more or less dismissed the comment, thinking it was a weird idiom I hadn’t heard before, but then my friend touched my arm and whispered, “Seth, this guy’s serious.” And he was right; the guy was red-eyed and sweating. Apparently, this is an actual practice around here, and is meant as an expression of deepest grief, like, if your child died, or something.]
Seth: “…..Um…..Please don’t do that….Here’s the thing, I’ve already been talking with some missionaries in another area that have just started trying to learn another group’s language. The people there don’t have any access to God’s talk, and we’re kind of already committed to helping them.”
Elderly man: “OK, then send someone else to us. Get another missionary to come from America, or England, or wherever, so we can hear God’s talk in our language.”
Seth: “Um….I’m kind of not really in charge of other people…”
Elderly man: “After you leave here, you’ll talk to people though, right? You’ll tell them what I just told you? We need someone to come here!”
Seth: “Yeah, I can do that. I’ll do that, and you try to keep all your fingers on.”
Elderly man: “Do you promise? You need to promise.”
Seth: “Yeah, I promise.”
So, personally, I thought that was a pretty awkward conversation. (Especially, since I had to have it three separate times, because he never fully accepted my answers.) He did bring up some valid points though. There really are an amazing number of languages in Papua New Guinea without a clear Gospel available. And there really aren’t nearly enough feet on the ground to even come close to handling the need. So, here’s the solution I’ve come up with to address this issue:
What if a few of you who read this little blog post go to your local church next Sunday and say something like, “I love you guys. You’re awesome. It’s a joy and a privilege to worship and serve God alongside you, and I’m going to stay right here with you…..IF someone here will cut off their finger.”
If there is such a dire need for you to stay in your fellowship of believers that someone will actually sacrifice a digit to keep you there, then by all means stay where you are. But if not, well, I know a guy over here that would do it in a heartbeat, if it meant you would come and share what you have with his people.
Food for thought, anyway.